Kyle Long felt on top of the world at the start of the 2016 NFL season. Entering his fourth year with the Chicago Bears, the former offensive lineman was fresh off of three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. He had even recently bought a house in Lake Forrest, Illinois, where his team headquartered.
A season-ending ankle injury Week 10 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers then brought Long down from that high.
“When you’re home and you’re by yourself and you’re injured, that’s about as lonely as it gets,” Long told NASCAR.com. “You can’t even go to Starbucks to go say hello or whatever. You’re stuck at home. You’re looking for anything to do.
“Then, all of a sudden, you get on iRacing and you notice there’s an entire community of people coming together to create something that’s really magical.”
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Long, a Virginia native who never claimed to be a diehard NASCAR fan growing up, became hooked.
“iRacing has provided the opportunity for me to feel what these drivers feel in preparation for a race, to understand the communication between a spotter and a driver,” said Long, who has his own Twitch stream. “I understand the respect between even the most heated of rivalries because of the nature of the sport, the inherent danger.”
Much like football.
Speaking of, Long returned to the gridiron in 2017 but missed games in each of the next three seasons before ultimately retiring from the sport at the end of the 2019 schedule. During those years, he continued his iRacing endeavors.
Long partnered up with Mode Media House and Mode Motorsports owner JR Rodriguez, who was actually the one to originally suggest iRacing to Long when sidelined, and together, they fielded a two-driver team in the 2019 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Jake Nichols and Phillip Diaz are their pilots. They finished 13th and 22nd in last year’s standings, respectively.
The Coca-Cola iRacing Series’ next race is Tuesday at virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway. Nichols currently ranks 10th, while Diaz sits 26th.
“They wanted to be in … the Coca-Cola Series forever, and now they’re in it,” Long said. “I feel like I’m proud of that. So many people try to get into this stuff.”
Long himself is even in a league: the LeafFilter Replacements iRacing Series. It’s an eight-race bi-weekly showdown that features a variety of names. Former 15-time Most Popular Driver winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in it, along with full-time NASCAR Cup Series drivers William Byron and Bubba Wallace. Crew chief Chad Knaus and spotters TJ Majors, Coleman Pressley and Josh Williams take their turns behind the wheel, along with some other team personnel. Oh, and country music star Tim Dugger drives, too, so Long isn’t the only non-NASCAR name.
That series for Long is more so about having fun and learning from some of the best. Long tries not to get in the way, unless he feels like his car is truly competitive. Then he goes for the win.
Overall on iRacing, Long has tallied 57 victories — 26 in each of the oval and road-course settings, along with five in global rallycross. His car is No. 75, the same number Long’s NFL jersey sported.
“It’s a unique experience to be able to just dive into something,” Long said. “You don’t know how deep it is. You don’t know what the temperature is. You don’t know what the consistency of the liquid is. But we dove headfirst into NASCAR, and I got to tell you: Come on in, the water is fine.”